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ABI Conference 2016

ABI Conference 2016

Last week I attended my second ABI conference, hosted by the Iowa Association of Business and Industry. This year’s conference was in Sioux City, Iowa at various venues around downtown.

Keynote Speakers

This year’s keynote speakers had surprisingly similar messages. Both Steve Rizzo and Dick Vitale talked about passion and attitude and how important they are to success.

Steve Rizzo, as a former standup comedian, focused on humor—seeing the funny things around you every day. Frankly, that’s something I’ve never struggled with.

Dick Vitale, yes THE Dickie V, told the story of how he rose through the coaching ranks by keeping a positive, can-do attitude, and passing it along to his players. His teams won games they shouldn’t have by playing harder than the other team and believing they could get the win.

I was in awe of Dick Vitale. His energy, his passion, and the love he has for his career and family. At 77 years old, the man has more energy in his pinkie than I do in my whole body over five years. He unashamedly teared up when he was talking about people who influenced his life, and he spoke with so much vigor about his work to raise money for children’s cancer research.

If I can keep even a fraction of the passion and energy Dick Vitale has as I age, I’ll be in good shape.

General Session Speakers

In addition to the keynote speakers, there were two general session speakers who spoke to the whole group: Kathy Button Bell, Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer at Emerson, and Johnny "Cupcakes" Earle, founder of Johnny Cupcakes.

Kathy Button Bell stressed the importance of telling your business’s story. In making her point, she shared the story of how she and her team used Emerson’s 125th anniversary to gain a lot of publicity by promoting STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education and careers.

Johnny Cupcakes, as he’s known, shared the story of starting 16 businesses before the age of 16, then moving on to found Johnny Cupcakes. Johnny Cupcakes is a t-shirt bakery—they sell shirts, hats, pins, and other apparel, but no cupcakes. Johnny spoke about making customers’ interactions with your company unique, memorable, and sharable.

Johnny Cupcakes has built such a strong brand and following that people collect their t-shirts and even get the logo tattooed on their bodies.

Breakout Sessions

Thursday morning brought us small-group breakout session, lovingly referred to as “Educational Escapes” this year. The two I attended were:

  • The Results Formula - How to get results when you don't know what to do
  • What's Your Why?

The first session walked us through looking introspectively to discover what’s blocking us from accomplishing our goals. For example, when the presenter asked for volunteers, we all sat there awkwardly. He paused to let us think about why we weren’t eagerly volunteering. For me it was because A) it was 8 a.m. and I wasn’t quite awake, and B) I worry about saying or doing something wrong and feeling stupid.

The second session was set up as my own funeral (as well as the funeral of the other dozen or so people in that session). We walked through joys, regrets, and things we have left to do in life. Then we did the same exercise for our business. What are we leaving behind? What would we say to those around us? What would others say about us? It was interesting to look at some of those big questions.

Networking Galore

The rest of the three days of the conference was networking. These are the times when the real business happens! There was a Beatles tribute band at the Hard Rock Casino on Tuesday night; business tours, a tour of downtown Sioux City, and golfing Wednesday afternoon; and a dinner and auction Wednesday night.

As usual, I met lots of great people and learned a lot. Next year’s conference will be in Dubuque, the other side of the state from Sioux City, and I’ll be there!